By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Lost in the outback.
A teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) and her younger brother (Luc Roeg, but billed as Lucien John) find themselves trapped amidst the harsh climate of the Australian outback. After spending a couple of days walking in the heat they manage to come upon a watering hole, but find to their horror that it dries up overnight. Feeling almost ready to give up they spot an aborigine (David Gulpilil in his film debut) marauding through the desert as part of his walkabout where young men are cast off into the wilderness for several months as part of their journey to manhood. He helps find them water, food and shelter, but eventually the cultural differences between the three and their inability to effectively communicate become a problem.
The legendary Nicholas Roeg makes his directorial debut here and even casts his own son, who is excellent, as the 9-year-old boy. The way the camera captures the desert by focusing on the different types of animal life and rock formations is impressive. I also enjoyed the editing which cuts back and forth between the desert and modern civilization while examining how each are uniquely connected and commenting on how our advanced culture has made us regress and less able to survive the savage elements that our ancestors were able to.
There are also scenes of animal cruelty as the aborigine hunts a kangaroo by first injuring him and then, as the animal gives out a whimpering cry, he spears it. Later the viewer is shown scenes involving big game hunters who mow down water buffalo for sport while graphically slitting their throats.
The film was controversial for capturing Agutter, who was only 17 at the time that this was filmed, in the nude while swimming at a watering hole. The actress felt uncomfortable doing the scene and required only the minimum of the crew to be present while it was shot. To me the scene was unnecessary as it didn’t fit the character who was prim and proper and didn’t at all come off like the type of person who would suddenly become carefree and risk being spotted by the aborigine that she really didn’t know or the ‘embarrassment’ of being seen by her younger brother. The camera stays on her naked body far longer than needed and comes off like shameless voyeurism.
I had the same issue with the scene involving researchers at a weather station that resembles footage to a soft core porn flick instead as the men ogle the only woman in their group, become overtly aroused at glimpses of her bosom and in one truly absurd moment even has one of the them sucking on her finger. I realize scientists have sex drives too, but I would think they would be able to behave in a professional capacity when on the job and not act like they hadn’t gotten laid in years and like with the swimming sequence this scene has nothing to do with the main story and could’ve been cut out completely.
The presence of the radio weakens the story as well as supposedly they’re in the middle of nowhere and miles from civilization and yet somehow are able to pick up different radio stations that come in crystal clear without any static, which would mean that they must be much closer to a city than it seems and thus hurts the desolate feeling that the film otherwise tries hard to create.
The film is based on a 1959 novel of the same name that was written by Donald Gordon Payne under the pseudonym of James Vance Marshall. The script though differs from the book in two major ways, one of which I liked and the other I didn’t.
The first difference involves the reason for how the two children get stranded. In the book they are victims of a plane crash, but in the film it is because their father tries to kill them, which is offbeat and sends the message that this movie will be different from any you’ve seen before, which I liked. Normally I would’ve wanted an explanation for his behavior, but by keeping it a mystery it elevates the intrigue and if anything was a far more creative explanation for their predicament than the formulaic plane crash one.
However, the way the aborigine dies is ludicrous. In the book he is stricken with the flu virus that was inadvertently passed onto him by the boy, but in the movie he ends up killing himself when the girl does not respond to his attempts at courtship, which seemed excessively rash.
Rejection is a part of the human experience and transcends all cultures. Everyone will have to deal with it at some point in their lives. If everyone killed themselves the minute they are rebuffed by someone they were attracted to then virtually no one on would make it past adolescence. The idea that a normal, healthy and otherwise happy young man with no signs of mental illness, and the film does not show him as having any so we must assume that he doesn’t, would suddenly off himself over a girl he has just met and barely knew is absurd. In reality he probably would’ve just gotten frustrated and left them stranded while going back to his own tribe where I presume he’d meet other women who he’d bond better with due to being more culturally connected and most likely would’ve found more attractive anyways.
End of Spoiler Alert!
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: July 1, 1971
Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes
Director: Nicholas Roeg
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video